Much like the team for which he plays, Ryan Winterswyk has developed over the past five years from an afterthought into one of the nation's best. An unrecruited 6'4", 230-pound safety who grayshirted after graduating from La Habra (Calif.) High, Winterswyk walked on at Boise State in January 2006 and settled in as a defensive end. Following a redshirt year on the scout team, he earned a scholarship, then a starting job and, eventually, back-to-back first team All-WAC honors. Last season he racked up nine sacks and 17 tackles for loss. "We have a lot of guys like that," says Broncos coach Chris Petersen. "[Recruiters] didn't see him coming."

With Boise State coming off its second undefeated season in four years, the college football world can no longer say it doesn't see the Broncos coming. This fall they will field the nation's most experienced team—one with a bona fide shot at a national championship. A staggering 20 starters return from a squad that finished No. 4 after knocking off undefeated TCU 17--10 in the Fiesta Bowl, the same bowl at which the Broncos first caught the country's attention by upsetting Oklahoma in January 2007. While the first Fiesta Bowl was remembered primarily for Petersen's bag of trick plays, last season's served as a showcase for Winterswyk and his defensive teammates; Boise held the Horned Frogs to their season low in points and yards. "In the past we would outscore people," says Winterswyk, now 263 pounds. "But our goal is to be a shutdown defense."

On an otherwise loaded squad that includes a Heisman candidate at quarterback (Kellen Moore), last season's top three rushers (Jeremy Avery, Doug Martin and D.J. Harper) and two NFL-caliber receivers (Austin Pettis and Titus Young), Petersen must replace two notable departures on D: cornerback Kyle Wilson, a first-round pick by the Jets, and coordinator Justin Wilcox, who left for Tennessee. Petersen promoted defensive line coach Pete Kwiatkowski to replace Wilcox and got an unexpected boost when Cal defensive coordinator Bob Gregory opted to return to Boise—where he served as coordinator in 2001—as a defensive assistant. "It's been a very smooth transition," says Petersen. "We're just trying to pick up where we left off."

Fast Facts


COACH Chris Petersen (5th year)

2009 RECORD 14--0 (8--0 in WAC)



Offense 10, Defense 10



6 Virginia Tech (in Landover, Md.)

18 at Wyoming

25 Oregon State


2 at New Mexico State

9 Toledo

16 at San Jose St.

26 Louisiana Tech


6 Hawaii

12 at Idaho

19 Fresno State

26 at Nevada


4 Utah State

Key Players


QB, Junior

This long shot Heisman candidate is prolific (3,536 passing yards, 39 TDs in '09) and accurate (three interceptions).


WR, Senior

Moore's red-zone receiver had 63 catches for 855 yards and 14 TDs in '09 despite a late-season left-ankle fracture.


DT, Junior

Winn emerged as a dominating interior lineman last season with 12½ tackles for loss.

PHOTOSTEVE CONNER/ICON SMI(WINTERSWYK)Winterswyk's pressure off the edge leads a stacked defense that locked down its top two opponents last year. PHOTOJOHN BIEVER